March 24, 2020KR Reviews

March 2020 Micro-Reviews

Shimon Adaf. Aviva-No. Trans. Yael Segalovitz. Alice James Books, 2019. 135 pages. $16.95.

Cover image of Aviva-NoShimon Adaf’s third book of poetry, Aviva-No, with its stunning translation into English by Yael Segalovitz, is a lyrical, aching exploration of grief. Within the span of one year, the Jewish year of mourning, Adaf’s speaker moves through the swirling, shifting contours of his own pain. This pain circles around the speaker throughout the book’s forty-three poems, expressing itself through the body, through language, and ultimately through the landscape itself. Immediately following the loss of his sister, Adaf’s speaker enters his sorrow:

My body succumbed to the inheritance, pulsing: possibilities
of pain, the split quiddity
of the blood, whole—
heartedness demanded by others.

The physicality of loss moves between the body of the departed and the bodies of those who survive them, shifting from the blood itself to the emotional bonds linking those who remain. The body once spent, the speaker shifts his focus onto poetry, questioning language’s ability to express the essence of his sister and his perception of her loss:

. . . Here I am standing
behind poetry-glazed
glass as a self
pounding, pounding, pounding, as you go bye.

By conflating space and time in the phrase ”as you go bye,” Aviva is both passing by and passing on; it is the language itself that allows the speaker to make this conceptual leap in the process of his grief. Yet as the year progresses, the speaker’s grief does not remain within the realm of the individual, but expands, taking on the physical and political landscape:

There’s no breaking through from there to darkness
to single handedly recover the shards—

only ghosts once flesh and voice

and the world land laden with roads
Sderot-Tel Aviv, Gaza-Sderot . . .

By referencing the roads linking these politically charged cities, the speaker’s personal ghosts find common ground with the ghosts implicit in the landscape. In thus grieving his sister, the speaker accesses a greater, collective grief—one that accompanies him until the final stanzas of the book, in which he addresses his mother, thus shifting back from the collective to the individual: “A psalm for Tamar may you be saved from the ashes / from ashen days and ashen dust . . .” Having thus reached the conclusion of his journey, the speaker, though changed, is left questioning:

So where is the gate
in Gaza,
in Sderot—

The underworld of former times; the air
still faint
and we go through.


Alejandro Albarrán Polanco. Cowboy & Other Poems. Trans. Rachel Galvin. Ugly Duckling Presse, 2019. 40 pages. $10.00.

Cover image of Cowboy & Other PoemsAlejandro Albarrán Polanco’s Cowboy & Other Poems, translated by Rachel Galvin, handles the inescapable finitude of mortality, the ache of absence, and the ambiguous morals behind pleasure and pain with an eye to the beautiful and the perverse.

In his title poem, Cowboy, Polanco asks:

“For this absence there is no prosthesis,” . . . no poems, poems are not enough for this absence, nor is all of love enough. . . . This emptiness, this cold at my back, this absence, is it the absence of God?

One page features stark images, the only visuals in the collection, of a gun being loaded, aimed, and fired paired with a pictographic how-to guide for making shotgun shells. The series is accompanied by the line, “Bodies / in the / expanded field.” The brevity is brutal.

Polanco describes the politic of modernity’s next-next nature of living in his five-part poem, Multitasking:

In the hills, in the mountains, on the avenue, in your house. This isn’t going to stop . . . Until you raise your head and see Christ’s blue puke, this isn’t going to stop. No es sorprendente, entonces, que se resientan, que se aferren a las armas o a la religión o a la antipatía por la gente que no sea como ellos o al sentimiento anti-inmigrante o al sentimiento anti-comercio como un modo de justificar sus frustraciones. This isn’t going to stop.

The original has the above, brought into the Spanish by Galvin, in English. It’s one of the collection’s most explicitly political passages and the only English in the original collection, containing an exacting description of bitterness turned self-justified xenophobia.

The final passage of Multitasking, the book’s last poem, a river of asks ends in one final question,

When you’re alone, what do you think about? . . . Do you inhale loads of powder so you don’t show up drunk or because you can’t stop yourself? Do you pick up teenagers on Facebook? This party is fun, right?

This won’t stop. The party is fun some nights. —ZCK

Elsa Cross. Bomarzo. Trans. Lawrence Schimel. Shearsman Books, 2019. 89 pages. $17.00.

BomarzoBomarzo: a garden of monsters, an Arcadian bower, a fugue state, an invocation, a purgatorial dream. Titled after the site of the sixteenth century Parco dei Mostri, constructed by the Duke Pier Francesco Orsini in central Italy, Mexican poet Elsa Cross’ collection gathers all these connotations under its eerie shadow. A long poem consisting of nineteen numbered sections of around two pages each, the collection inhabits the structure of an underworld journey narrative, although the narrative motion is often disrupted by the intrusion of dreams and memories, as well as the plural speaker’s deliberate attempt to “divert[] the conversation.”

The Bomarzo evoked in Cross’ book resembles not so much a physical place as a kind of linguistic archipelago, often evoking a feeling reminiscent of Jaime Luis Huenún’s Port Trakl. Bomarzo’s surreal setting allows incongruous spatial and temporal references to overlap: a pre-Columbian archaeological site at Malinalco, Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, the Cumaean Sibyl, Paul Celan, Paul Valéry, Gérard de Nerval, and Friedrich Nietzsche. The capacious and dreamlike space of Bomarzo, “another face of Arcadia,” exists only as a non-site made of speech:

We didn’t go to Bomarzo
save for in the threads of those long conversations
that always led us to the same sources,
that hung from the wisteria of some pergolas
which perhaps never existed in Bomarzo.

Given that speech is such a pressing concern in the poem, the center of Bomarzo’s labyrinth is the iconic stone Orcus mouth that appears on the book’s cover. This aperture is the ultimate threshold, the gateway to the underworld, but also the site where thought becomes speech. The Orcus mouth represents the final circle in the descent narrative, the place where reason collapses and “language returns to allegoric evasion” or “pure sounds / capsizing toward the open mouth.” However, this semiotic breakdown contains both the journey’s crisis and its resolution in a pre-linguistic, almost spiritual unity:

What more?
What more to say?
The essential note remained,
like a la dissolving all sounds
in its pure timbre.

Although Elsa Cross has authored over twenty books, Bomarzo marks only the fourth full-length collection to appear in English. Translator Lawrence Schimel forgoes a translator’s note or any kind of paratextual orientation, so readers are left to navigate the poem on their own terms. However, this lack is partly alleviated by the side-by-side presentation of Cross’ Spanish text with Schimel’s translation. It seems appropriate to its thematic concerns for Bomarzo to take shape between languages, in the hypnotic boundary zone of translation. After all, like translation, Bomarzo is a place of “[w]andering limits” and dissolving borders, “where we confronted / the paradox of the illusory fields: / from within one couldn’t distinguish them / and on emerging from them they vanished.” —ZA

J.V. Foix. Daybook 1918: Early Fragments. Trans. Lawrence Venuti. Northwestern University Press, 2019. 171 pages. $18.95.

Cover image of Daybook 1918: Early FragmentsDaybook 1918: Early Fragments, translated by Lawrence Venuti, gathers together essential writings of the major twentieth-century Catalan poet, J.V. Foix (pronounced “Fosh,” with a long “o”). Daybook consists primarily of short prose poems—fragments of images and thought—followed by longer prose pieces and essays. Venuti’s rich introduction and meticulous endnotes not only contextualize Foix’s (and Catalonia’s) position within the European avant-garde, but also trace the publication history of each component of Daybook. In this sense, Venuti’s curatorial process brings to light Karen Emmerich’s crucial point that “originals” are not stable or fixed entities, but are instead set in place by the translator. Venuti leads us backstage, walking us through the process of compiling a translation from many different originals, available for the first time in English. While the text appeals to an academic audience, it also serves as a dual point of entry and departure: a glimpse into twentieth-century Catalan literature that compels readers to further explore this tradition.

The masculine anxieties of the avant-garde tellingly reveal themselves at certain junctures throughout the poems. Early in the collection, Foix sketches a particularly horrifying but striking image: “Upon perceiving my rival in the distance, motionless, waiting for me on the beach, I could not be certain whether it was he, my horse, or Gertrudis. Drawing near, I realized that it was a stone phallus, gigantic, erected in past epochs. Its shadow covered half the sea” (19). The images Foix shapes with language—a lover unfastening stars and rinsing them in a marsh (102), rings made of umbilical cords (57)—make Daybook compelling and surprising. While the translation at times tends toward the literal, closely mirroring the Catalan syntax in certain moments (most likely a strategic choice given Venuti’s extensive work in translation theory), Daybook offers an immersive experience; the poems read like a dream journal written while Foix was still dreaming.

The carefully-selected essays included within the volume provide an added bonus to the poetic content. In “Avant-gardism,” Foix describes Catalonia as a “nation under construction” (129). To that point, Venuti has built a text that links Catalonia’s most pressing questions of past and present; a century later, many of the same concerns Foix raises surrounding Catalan nationalism and its place within both Spain and Europe remain just as timely. —GM

Marie-Andrée Gill. Spawn. Trans. Kristen Renee Miller. Book*hug Press, 2020. 89 pages. $18.00.

Cover image of SpawnMarie-Andrée Gill’s Spawn, translated by Kristen Renee Miller, roots itself in instability. In just the first poem, she both metaphorizes and demetaphorizes the body: “We the unlikely / the aftermath / the remains of heart muscle / and black earth.” The plural speaker is elevated to the “aftermath,” but is also described as remains of “heart muscle,” the abstract and concrete side by side to create a profound and beautiful image.

Gill and Miller choose words delicately, describing the land as “territory,” to balance the connection of the speaker to the earth but also to imply that the earth is controlled by an outside politics, to carry the anxiety of indigeneity. Spawn shines in its deft language. Things transform easily into others, whether from human to beast, sun to sex, and love to the memory of love. Land becomes raw sexuality, and then sexuality is transformed into sometimes forgettable, sometimes indelible marks on the speaker and on the world around her. There are times that the love the speaker shares with the addressee is in everything: “love u-4-ever it’s written in my diary it’s written on the benches the cement the trees,” and times that their love is forgettable: “come I’ll take you to my room to make love / for the first time / which I will not remember.”

The book is also balanced with the descriptions of the ouananiche, a fish that is revealed after the end of the last poem of the book only to differ from the Atlantic salmon in that it, unlike the salmon, doesn’t migrate. The choice to migrate or not to migrate comes up for the speaker, as does the battle between hyperlocality of Lake Piekuakami and the placelessness that the speaker describes as “(we are everywhere lost).”

The most impressive part of this book is how such few words carry such grand emotions, how the poetry seems to build an entire landscape then touch on every part of its poetic world. The “spawn” seems to be both the poetic voice and the poem itself. Through the lyrical transformations, through the linguistic translation, at the end of the book it was I the reader who felt changed. —CA

Vicente Huidobro. Sky-Quake: Tremor of Heaven. Trans. Ignacio Infante and Michael Leong. co•im•press, 2020. 134 pages. $19.95.

Cover image of Sky-QuakeAll translated poetry could be considered “poetic artefacts.” But when Ignacio Infante and Michael Leong, translators of Vicento Huidobro’s Temblor de cielo and the accompanying Tremblement de ciel, describe the multilingual work with this term, it is a tribute not only to the archeological process of translation, but also a nod to Temblor/Tremblement’s importance in understanding the author’s artistic vision. Huidobro’s oeuvre is fed by creacionismo, an artistic movement he founded which emphasized poetry as a universal act of creation. And the litmus test for a creacionista poem? Whether or not it would lose its essence in translation.

Like many archeological artifacts, Huidobro’s original 1931 work in Spanish and French was left buried, in this case passed over in favor of the grander Altazor. It is, however, a vital sequel to understanding his poetic vision. Readers will note echoes of the well-worn tale of Tristan and Iseult, but Huidobro takes flight from this narrative to a cosmic plane where love, life, and death intertwine and Infante and Leong’s English translation does justice to the author’s creacionista ideals.

There are moments in which the translation seems distrustful that it has reached its goal, most notably in the doubly translated title, “Sky-Quake: Tremor of Heaven.” To capture both the geological and bodily meanings of “temblor,” “tremor” would suffice, but “Sky-Quake” assures readers of this duality. While it occasionally works too hard to be translatable, other times it gracefully balances the needs of three distinct languages. For example, “How many dead do we carry within us” pulls both from the Spanish “Cuánta muerte llevamos en nosotros” and the French “Combien de morts nous portons en nous” while letting the tension between “dead” and “death” continue to vibrate.

Huidobro strove for linguistic universality and believed that poetic events could be identical in all languages. While identicality is an impossible task, Infante and Leong’s translation showcases the fluidity and multiplicity within and among languages, and it is this act of (almost) cosmic creation that honors the poet and the rightful prominence of these poetic artifacts. —MC

Friederike Mayröcker. études. Translated by Donna Stonecipher, Seagull Books, 2020. 195 pages. $24.50.

the human world has become so UNFAMILIAR ach let us go into the trembling green twig-work and how it aspires heavenward. . .

Cover image of etudesétudes, a sweeping movement with memory and mortality, appears in print this spring from Seagull Books. Translated by Donna Stonecipher, études marks the third comprehensive publication of Friederike Mayröcker in English in the past three years. Unlike Jonathan Larson’s 2018 translation of Scardanelli and 2019 translation of Embracing the Sparrow-Wall or 1Schumann-Madness, Stonecipher’s work presents a deceptively dense wall of English spanning nearly two hundred pages. With no facing translation, the floral-flurry performed by Mayröcker seems to appear in English as if from a phantom. There is no form of translator’s note in études, another crucial absence. Larson, however, spoke to his earlier iteration of études published by The Volta in 2017:

Mayröcker writes as a poet whose language is one’s own life, a life that breaks the bounds of a first person subjectivity, as she often writes in the third person subjunctive but leaves out the subject to give the sensation of an Entichungswillen (the will to de-I, a denial of the first person).[1]

While these aren’t Stonecipher’s words, they particularly affirm the absence she performs in translation—a continuation of the will to de-I. Stonecipher abides by Mayröcker’s philosophy—not an ascetic denial of self, but a self that makes room for permeability. The language stands for the self. The language represents itself.

Stonecipher translates: “that I was fomented that I was flooded oh how beautiful, were the mountains” (69). These qualifications—that I was—not only perform the agility of Mayröcker and Stonecipher’s “I” but speak to the ongoing movement towards death that the text enacts. These qualifications appear as a form of self-remembering, self-eulogizing. As a study of the seasons, études yields a self desirous of one more spring (8). Still, Mayröcker wonders, as translated by Stonecipher: “when will I turn into 1 swallow / all just bricolage” (82). This entity of “1 swallow,” rendered increasingly symbolic through repetition, suggests a transformation at death—a true and final movement out of human form. The transformation is once again suggested in the book’s final utterance: “&c” (195). While the similarly recurring “all just bricolage” and “&c” may point to the poet’s impulse of collage, the invocation of bricolage bestows upon each word culled in writing and in translating a precious singularity. —AMR


Bruno K. Öijer, The Trilogy, Trans. by Bruno K. Öijer and Victoria Häggblom, Action Books, 2020. 256 pages. $24.00.

Cover image of The TrilogyIn 1980s Sweden, a surrealist rock-poet with working-class roots had grown tired of the same old mainstream literary establishments. Fueled by influences ranging from Arthur Rimbaud and Vladimir Mayakovsky, to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, Bruno K. Öijer went on a tour of his country, giving enthralling poetry performances reminiscent of Patti Smith. Five years after the release of his 1986 record Shadow Comes (which features poems set to music by Brynn Settels), Öijer completed While the Poison Acts, the haunting first book in what is today known as The Trilogy.

feels like an old story
feels like the pattern in the special dress of the dead
feels like I am being shown to myself
like you show the place
where you tended the wind, the endless wind

For the first time in English, all three mesmerizing books of The Trilogy—While the Poison Acts (1991); The Lost Word (1995); and The Fog of Everything (2001)—have been co-translated by Victoria Häggblom and Öijer himself. The three texts oscillate between themes of life and death; bodies and machinery; sex and violence; and adulthood and childhood.

I was gasoline
in the machinery of darkness, the ticking meter
between your ribs, a negative response
to the millionaire’s question, a dead heat
between love and sex, the frightened
rabbit’s eye inside the magician’s hat, I

Poet and critic Lars Gustavsson has called Öijer “the most entrancing Swedish poet since Tranströmer” and, in the book’s Afterword, Johannes Göransson reminds us that the author’s work is importantly “steeped in non-Swedish poetry” and profoundly influenced by the “apocalyptic writings of the Sioux visionary Black Elk.” Bruno K. Öijer’s The Trilogy is a sonically startling beginner’s guide to the end times, a riveting (and Romantic) trip into the acid rain of the unknown.

trees and waterways were carried away from your bedside
everything that didn’t need to be said
lay like a comb in my hand
while I stroked your hair
and promised to come back


Tomaž Šalamun. Druids. Trans. Sonja Kravanja. Black Ocean, 2019. 112 pages. $25.00.

Cover image of DruidsOne of Slovenian poet Tomaž Šalamun’s poems describes flipping through Life magazine: a volcano erupts, and Islanders pack their fishing boats. On the next page, a flowery geisha advertises Japanese passports. And there is the volcano again, “visible only against the light— / on the Life’s / Japanese page.”

The poem doesn’t interpret or explain, offering only a collage of vivid images in nominal phrases. The effect of this juxtaposition is both tantalizing and jarring. Life’s editors did not intend for the reader to look at the Japan ad and see a volcano erupting. They assume their readers will make the necessary mental break to make up for the pages’ slight translucency. It is precisely through this disregard for the prescribed boundaries of how we are “supposed” to interpret the world that Šalamun’s poems continually shock and delight. Every page of this collection is exactic with striking and uncanny imagery merging the vigilant with the oneiric, the quotidian with the absurd, and the profane with the divine.

Reading Druids is like wandering through an idiosyncratic art gallery whose only unifying factor is a passion for bright colors. While there is a definite predilection for the surreal, the technicolor artworks range from impressionist pastorals to Catholic iconography to the found art of other people’s refuse. Throughout, the poems deconstruct and reconstruct mythologies — personal, national, and religious —with varied poetic voices ranging from a Christ-like being to a blueberry, to a father who “danced on [his] writing desk” at his son’s birth. One poem begins:

In Central Europe
is snow.

as if made of clay—

from other cultures
storm in.

Born in 1941 in Zagreb, Croatia and living most of his life in Ljubljana until his death in 2014, Šalamun was one of the most prominent poets of his generation and a leader of the Central European avant-garde. This is Sonja Kravanja’s third translation of his work. She forges a wryly exuberant tone in English, while hinting at a non-English grammar by drawing attention to instances of dual verb conjugations (as opposed to singular and plural) and neuter nouns (existing in Slovene alongside masculine and feminine.) She has irrevocably enriched the English language by bringing us these poems, with their ironic irreverence for religious dogma and their playful reverence for creating one’s own experience of the Divine. —PBC


Zack Anderson holds an MFA from the University of Notre Dame. He is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Georgia.

Clara Altfeld lives and works in Nagasaki, Japan.

Phoebe Bay Carter is a translator from Arabic and Spanish and a PhD student in Comparative Literature at Harvard University. She is currently based in Cairo, where she is a fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad and an editor at ArabLit.

Zoe Contros Kearl holds an MFA from Columbia University, where she studied poetry and translation, and a BA from New York University’s Gallatin School. She lives and works in New York.

Megan Coxe is a translator and writer. She has a Masters in Hispanic Literatures from the University of Texas and has continued to engage with Latin American creative traditions through her translations. Most recently, her translations were included in the 2018 biography by Mark Eisner, Neruda: The Poet’s Calling.

Paul Cunningham is the translator of Helena Österlund’s Words (OOMPH! Press, 2019) and Sara Tuss Efrik’s The Night’s Belly (Toad Press, 2016). He edits Deluge and co-manages Radioactive Cloud with Jake Syersak. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Georgia.

Chloe Farrell is a translator living and working in Paris, France. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Kenyon College, a degree in French Linguistics from Paris-Sorbonne University, and is currently finishing a master’s degree in Translation at Paris-Nanterre University. Her nonfiction translations are published with Indiana University Press.

Gabriella Martin is a literary translator and PhD Candidate in Hispanic Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, where she is completing a dissertation on Iberian translational literatures.

AM Ringwalt is a writer and musician. The recipient of the 2019 Sparks Prize as a graduate of the University of Notre Dame’s MFA in Poetry Program, she currently lives and teaches in Nashville, Tennessee. Her words appear or are forthcoming in the Washington Square Review, Peripheries and the Bennington Review.